At Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice we are always looking for new ways to reach out to our clients and ensure no one is in a position where they find themselves being excluded from seeking advice. Over the past few years Arun and Chichester have looked into video calling, as we have a number of rural areas surrounding us, meaning there is an immediate barrier for some clients, just jumping in the car on onto public transport can be a huge issue, but turning on your device from the comfort of your own home, means travel is no longer a problem for some. And finally we have added video calling to list of channels this provides an opportunity to really investigate whether this platform can mean we help more people. What more we are not only able to offer booked sessions but also a drop-in service.
Drop ins have been a little slow since their introduction, we know that the key here is word of mouth, and so continue to find new ways to share this news. We have created a video appointment request form and this has created excitement not only amongst colleagues, but also clients, obviously leaving our homes is a little more difficult at the moment, so seeing someone's face and being able to show an adviser a letter or explain through the next best thing to being face to face with someone, can be a big comfort. The form has allowed a steady flow of clients some new to the service and some existing. Rapport is so important when disclosing your problems and so gaining this via video is much more successful when you can see a client. Being able to break the ice with a ‘Sorry, I hope you don’t mind I've got a coffee’ and the client sharing they too had their mug full next to them or, ‘you might see my cat in the background, or hear the dog snoring or making funny noises. It is one of the disadvantages of working from home!’ which always gives the client a chuckle at the start of the video appointment.
On one occasion a client did end up seeing my cat in the background and this provided some small talk, where they introduced me to their cat and we spent a few minutes discussing our various animals — which made them feel much more at ease. I would suggest that things like this we cant even do face to face, so the platform really does have some things that aid those initial awkward moments.
Starting these appointments in a very relaxed way allows me to really explore the client situation, particularly the first client I am thinking of, they initially made contact via the telephone for food and fuel vouchers, through additional exploration on the phone it was clear client really needed support with their benefits but was struggling to understand deductions being made to them, I think we all understand how difficult it can be navigating a system you are not familiar with and then on top of that trying to understand the information being provided and all the jargon that goes with it. However, video calling allowed the client to log in and share their screen, don’t get me wrong, we still had a bit of that ‘up a bit, down a bit, yes press that button’, going on, but the process was made so much easier by us both being able to see the screen.
Once we had seen that the solution was simple and we were able to explain to the client what was going on, in simple, more understandable language, we were on our way. But it was bigger than that, when a client comes in face to face, we don’t see how they are living, they cant walk us around their houses, they cant show us the damp that is causing them so much stress, but on this occasion, I could see that client was sleeping on their sofa and did not have a bed. Having the knowledge of the clients case and having a visual of their situation allowed me to make a more compelling case when applying for grants on their behalf.
So, what started out as a simple case of dealing with an immediate crisis, turned into looking for grants to really help not only with the crisis but also assisting with an issue client probably would not have disclosed to anyone. We also made a referral to our energy team where client learnt about their heating and electricity systems and how best to use them, empowering her to minimize her expenditure. Client was so grateful for all help they received and I wasn’t left with the feeling of ‘what else could we have done’ as I knew I had a really good understanding of clients situation and we had accessed all the help available.
The second appointment which springs to mind when thinking about how video advice can really help build strong rapport and allow for an in depth review of the clients circumstances was our first video appointment submitted through the video appointment submission form. The client wanted help completing their PIP renewal — which made sense as a few years previously we had helped them complete their original PIP claim, which had been successful.
The start of the video call was like any other, except for the fact that my cat jumped up onto the ledge behind me and started calling the seagulls outside the window!!
I couldn't have been more embarrassed at her timing, she’d been asleep all day and the first time I had a video appointment that day, she decides to start calling the seagulls over, to become her afternoon snack.
I apologized to the client and we both had a little chuckle and I joked with client that ‘my cat was the rudest co-worker in the world, always interrupting my calls!’ this really made client laugh and for the next few minutes client and I were just sat talking about working from home, our pets — client also had a cat who was very vocal! and just day to day things. This really built up a strong rapport between the client and myself very quickly, which is something I was truly grateful for, as some of the questions within a PIP renewal/PIP application can be a bit intrusive and not very nice to share with someone you don't really know or have only just met. However, once we came to these questions, client said they felt that I was really empathizing with them and we were really getting along so they didn't feel awkward about disclosing about their difficulties with washing and dressing or managing their toilet needs.
Towards the end of the call, when I was wrapping up and asking client how they found the video call, the client became very teary…I immediately jumped into consoling the client and they apologized, saying they were silly to be crying about it but they actually didn't have any family left and their friends were not confident using technology so it was the first time she had seen anyone ‘face to face’ in well over 6 months, client said it had really made their day seeing the person who was helping them as well as the fact that we had built up such a good rapport, feeling that she could come back for help anytime.
I would say, this was the first time I was really blown away by the impact a video call could have on a client. Which is why, if the client has the ability and technology at their disposal to engage in a video appointment, I would always urge them to, as it can have such a positively profound impact on their engagement in the service and their mental health.
Video advice brings so many solutions to client engagement and inclusive advice, but it wont be for everyone, which is fine because neither is face to face and as an organisation delivering advice to a variety of different people, we should be able to provide this in ways that will suit those receiving the help and advice they need.